Title: Stargazer by Anne Hillerman
Leaphorn, Chee & Manuelito Series Book Twenty-Four
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 336 pages
Book Rating: B+
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss
Murder, deception, Navajo tradition, and the stars collide in this enthralling entry in New York Times bestselling author Anne Hillerman’s Leaphorn, Chee & Manuelito series, set amid the beautiful landscape of the American Southwest.
What begins as a typical day for Officer Bernadette Manuelito—serving a bench warrant, dealing with a herd of cattle obstructing traffic, and stumbling across a crime scene—takes an unexpected twist when she’s called to help find an old friend. Years ago, Bernie and Maya were roommates, but time and Maya’s struggles with addiction drove them apart. Now Maya’s brother asks Bernie to find out what happened to his sister.
Tracing Maya’s whereabouts, Bernie learns that her old friend had confessed to the murder of her estranged husband, a prominent astronomer. But the details don’t align. Suspicious, Bernie takes a closer look at the case only to find that nothing is as it seems. Uncovering new information about the astronomer’s work leads Bernie to a remote spot on the Navajo Nation and a calculating killer.
The investigation causes an unexpected rift with her husband and new acting boss, Jim Chee, who’s sure Bernie’s headed for trouble. While she’s caught between present and past, Chee is at a crossroads of his own. Burdened with new responsibilities he didn’t ask for and doesn’t want, he must decide what the future holds for him and act accordingly.
Can their mentor Joe Leaphorn—a man also looking at the past for answers to the future—provide the guidance both Bernie and Chee need? And will the Navajo heroes that stud the starry sky help them find justice—and the truth they seek?
Stargazer by Anne Hillerman is a truly spellbinding mystery. This twenty-fourth addition to the Leaphorn, Chee & Manuelito series can be read as a standalone, but I highly recommend the previous installments as well.
Officer Bernadette “Bernie” Manuelito makes a horrifying discovery when she tries to find the owners of wandering livestock. After knocking on the door of the house, she begins hearing noises that she is compelled to investigate. Once inside, Bernie finds a woman who has been tied up and beaten and tragically, a deceased baby. The FBI soon take over the case but Bernie’s husband Sergeant Jim Chee enlists retired Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn to try to identify the baby’s parents.
In New Mexico, Socorro County Detective Tara Williams begins investigating astrophysicist Steve Jones’ death. He has been found in his car with a gunshot wound to the head. Despite a few puzzling details at the scene, Tara believes he died by suicide. But just as she is preparing to close the case, his estranged wife Maya Kelsey walks into the Navajo Tribal police station and confesses to killing him. Maya is Bernie’s former college roommate and she is convinced her friend is lying. But Bernie cannot fathom why Maya would confess to a murder she did not commit.
Bernie assists Tara with the investigation since the tribal police officer closest to the scene is currently unable to work due an injury. Tara and Bernie are frustrated by Maya’s refusal to reveal her motive for killing her husband. Bernie heads to the lab where Steve has been working and she learns interesting information from Dr. Kathy Mwangi and his project collaborator Dr. Joy Peterson. She is surprised to hear they believe Steve had been depressed over problems with a former co-worker.
Since Bernie still disbelieves Maya’s confession, she ignores everyone’s advice for her to drop the case. She continues tracking down leads and with just one more day to investigate, Bernie turns to Joe Leaphorn for guidance. Armed with his advice and a couple of new pieces of information, Bernie believes she knows who killed Steve.
Stargazer is a brisk moving mystery with a clever plot and beautiful setting. Bernie is an intelligent woman with well-honed instincts and a keen eye for details. Jim is under extreme stress as he fills in as the police chief. Under pressure and bored with bureaucracy, Jim and Bernie’s interactions are occasionally rather tense. Bernie and Tara make a good team but it is Bernie’s experience in the field that prove to be invaluable during the murder investigation. Despite his retirement, Joe is a valuable source of information and advice for both Jim and Bernie. With some well-placed red herrings and ingenious misdirects, Anne Hillerman brings this intriguing mystery to an exciting conclusion. This newest installment in the Leaphorn, Chee & Manuelito series is a fresh and innovative mystery that old and new fans are sure to enjoy.